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Change ahead for local schools?

Parents of children in the Grass Valley School District will have a chance to comment tonight on three school reconfiguration plans for the coming year.

What began in November with as many as 20 different configurations for the district’s five schools has been whittled to three choices.

A decision on how the 1,750-student district will look will probably be made after the district’s Feb. 8 board meeting, said Superintendent Jon Byerrum.



This evening’s meeting will largely be a chance to introduce the three options and give the public a chance to comment on them.

If changes are made for the 2005-06 school year, it would be the second time in a decade that there’s been a shake-up within the district.




Changes within the community have prompted the reconfiguration, Byerrum said.

The district, like most in Nevada County, is experiencing declining enrollment. Grass Valley schools have seen a decline in attendance for 12 of the past 13 years, Byerrum said. Seven years ago, the district had nearly 450 more students than it does now. The superintendent said possible changes have also been prompted by the state’s shaky financial situation and a desire by some parents to have their children attend one school for the first six years of their child’s education.

Changes are also being considered as Carol Judd, Bell Hill’s principal for the past 19 years and a 28-year Grass Valley School District employee, prepares to retire in July.

Byerrum acknowledges the proposals might not please everyone.

“Anytime you mess with school configuration in a major way, it’s very emotional,” he said. “Our overriding concern has to be what’s best for the children.”

One of the options includes keeping the configuration at Bell Hill, Hennessy, Scotten and the Grass Valley Charter school as it is.

Under that scenario, Bell Hill retains its K-2 format, Hennessy School keeps a K-3 structure, and Scotten School remains a 3-5 configuration.

Scotten’s addition of third graders was the last major change made to the district.

Grass Valley trustee Frank Bennallack was on the board the last time it made a change, adding that it’s important for any business, including schools, to evaluate their business models occasionally.

“Whether you’re flush with enrollment or declining, you should always be looking to see where the children can best be served.”

Bennallack is on the reconfiguration committee but declined to endorse any particular plan.

Jacque Nielsen has a kindergarten student at Bell Hill and a third-grader at Scotten.

She’s on the site council for both schools and said she doesn’t envy the board for having to make difficult choices in a tight financial environment.

“There’s certainly a part of me that doesn’t want change, but I respect the way they are taking a look at it and trying to do what’s best for the district and the families,” she said.

Nielsen didn’t endorse any one of the three plans, two of which propose making Hennessy a K-5 school and one which places Grass Valley Charter at Bell Hill School.

“As far as in my life as a parent, I think there’s a benefit in clustering some of the grades together,” she said.

Inger Avery, whose third- and fourth-graders attend Scotten School, said she, too, likes the clustering at Grass Valley schools, a practice some have criticized because the setup, some say, requires too much moving around in the elementary grades.

Avery’s children attended Bell Hill before coming to Scotten.

The proposed solutions “address some of the needs of parents who want to keep their children in the same geographic place,” Avery said.

The decision will be a tough one, Nielsen admits.

“I’m happy I’m not on the board. It’s a tough call to make.”

The options

At 6 p.m. today, the Grass Valley School District will hold a public hearing – the first of two – on the Hennessy School campus to discuss possible school reconfiguration for the 2005-06 school year.

Proposals under consideration are:

• Keeping the current setup, with Bell Hill a K-2 school, Hennessy a K-3 school, Scotten a 3-5 school, and with the Grass Valley Charter School at Hennessy School.

• Making Hennessy and Scotten each K-5 schools, with Bell Hill and Grass Valley Charter unchanged.

• Placing Grass Valley Charter at Bell Hill School and making Hennessy and Scotten each K-5 schools.

The second public hearing will be at 6 p.m., Feb. 8, also at Hennessy School.


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